Cornwall is full of mystery, legend, and is surrounded by the sea. This heady combination comes together in the form of oodles of history, local myths and plenty of great Cornish cuisine. And, of course, there are all of the Cornish fortresses, medieval ruins, and fanciful country mansions. Here’s your guide to the very best castles in Cornwall, places you should definitely consider visiting when planning a SouthWest road trip!
Carn Brea Castle
Towering above the city of Redruth below, Carn Brea is a 14th-century hunting lodge which was hugely altered in the 18th-century to fit the fashion of the time. As a result, this quirky building is part romantic, part gothic, and incredibly photogenic.
While the Castle actually started out in life as a chapel dedicated to St Michael (the Carn Brea hill lies on a significant ley line), it was soon transformed into a family home away from home. Today, Carn Brea operates as a fusion cuisine restaurant, with magnificent views over the Cornish countryside.
Read more: Hiking Carn Brea.
St Mawes Castle, St Mawes
Constructed by Henry VIII (you know, that guy from the history book with all of the wives, and who started the entire Church of England just so that he could get a divorce!), St Mawes was built between 1539 and 1545.
Today it is owned and managed by English Heritage and is easily the best surviving example of a coastal artillery fortress. For a fee, you can enter and see the intricate 16th-century carvings, as well as learn about crime and punishment in the area.
Restmorel Castle, Lostwithiel
If you’re searching for beautiful ruins, then you need to look no further than Restmorel Castle, which is located along the River Fowey and isn’t so far from the small yet ancient town of Lostwithiel. During its heyday, the town was immensely wealthy, thanks to its status as a stannary town. These designated places were where tin was sorted; Devonian examples of stannary towns include Ashburton and Chagford.
Tintagel Castle, Tintagel
An azure blue sea stretches out into the distance and the alleged seat of King Arthur, or at least what remains of it, lies behind you. There has been a settlement at Tintagel for a thousand or perhaps two thousand years, and today all that remains of a once thriving settlement is a few ruined walls. Remains of a Dark Age settlement can be wandered around and the area is a great place to go if you love coastal walks.
Pendennis Castle, Falmouth
Situated seaside, much like St Mawes Castle, Pendennis Castle was constructed as an artillery fort during the reign of Henry VIII. Built between 1540 and 1542, today it is owned and managed by English Heritage, and you can enter for a small fee. A visit to the fortress is a perfect rainy day activity (it does rain a fair bit in this part of Cornwall) and fun for all ages (yes, even adults!)
St Michael’s Mount, Marazion
Little known is that Mont Saint Michel’s iconic and fortified abbey in Normandy has a smaller and slightly younger cousin, that of St Michael’s Mount, a conical tidal island just a little off the Southern Coast of Cornwall. Built by the same order of Benedictine monks as Mont Saint Michel, there has been a small church on site for centuries.
Today, the fortified mansion house remains a family home for Lords with links to royalty, and indeed plenty of the Monarchy have visited over the years. Highlights of St Michael’s Mount include a tropical garden, centuries worth of furnishings in the mansion house and pretty views out to sea and beyond. Of all the castles in Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount is probably my favourite.
Read more: Things to do at St Michael’s Mount.
St Catherine’s Castle, Fowey
A maze of stunning cliffside coastal paths stretch out into the distance and the crashing waves of the sea hit the cliff face directly below: there’s no denying that St Catherine’s Castle is in an unforgettable location. If you’re looking for a fairytale feel castle in Cornwall, then head to St Catherine’s.
Constructed during the 16th century when a possible French invasion was a real threat, this might well be the smallest castle in Cornwall! Entry is free during daylight hours (though the castle is sometimes closed during holiday periods and during bad weather).
Launceston Castle, Launceston
Towering above the North Cornish town of Launceston, the well-preserved castle of Launceston Castle was built shortly after the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century. Today, most of what survives dates back to the 13th century, and you can wander around the unique keep, get a glimpse of the town below from a bird’s eye perspective and trace over a thousand years of history.
Other highlights of the historic town (whose historic town walls can be spied in the grounds of Launceston Castle) include the beautiful Abbey Books bookstore, as well as the best place to eat sourdough in Cornwall, the Little Bakehouse @ Launceston.
Trematon Castle, Saltash
In the South of Cornwall, not far from the pretty Saltash, you’ll find Trematon Castle, a fortress similar to that of Restmorel Castle. Overlooking Plymouth Sound and constructed during the 12th-century, there has probably been a fortress of some kind on site since at least Roman times, and perhaps even earlier.
Today, the castle is open to the public and can be visited on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11.00 am – 4.30 pm. A visit to Trematon can easily be combined with a trip to nearby Cotehele House and Whitsand Bay. Within the bay, there’s also a fort of the same name, Whitsand Bay Fort, which now operates as a holiday park. If you venture to the very end of the bay, you’ll also see Rame Head, a pretty chapel dedicated to St Michael.
More folly that fortress, Doyden castle lies on the fringes of Port Quin, a quaint fishing hamlet with little in the way of attractions. But what Port Quin lacks in things to do, it more than certainly makes up for in coastal paths, water activities and plenty of great weather (in the summer months!) Today, you can admire Doyden Castle, one of the more unusual castles in Cornwall, from all along the coastline, and you can even rent it out for parties…